Canadian city questions proposal to spend 200.000 on consultant

25 May 2016 Consultancy.uk

The Canadian city of Saskatoon, as part of its urban renewal and rejuvenation programme, is seeking external consulting advice – even while the local government, according to many, has the in-house knowhow to get the job done itself. In the eyes of advocates for external support, however, the organisation currently lacks the workforce to perform the analysis.

The Candian city of Saskatoon has a population of around 261,000. The city, the largest in the Canadian province of Saskatchewa, is straddled by the banks of the South Saskatchewan River. The city is one of the fastest growing in Canada, and, to meet its long term aspiration as a healthy, inclusive and distinct centre, the municipality’s Urban Design team recently launched a number of Streetscape development projects. The Streetscape programme includes a range of improvements to the safety, function, quality and connectivity of different areas in the city, though, among others, bus bulbs, sidewalk remediation with amenity strip, street trees, sidewalk lighting, street furniture, public art and special place-making features.

It was recent disclosed that for the redesign of the streetscape along Idylwyld Drive between 20th Street and 25th Street, the municipality has proposed to spend $200,000 on external consultants. The cost of the proposed spend was questioned by Council member Darren Hill, who argued that the city itself already has the expertise in-house to carry out the redesign. “I have a hard time spending $200,000 when we have the expertise in house. I’d much sooner spend $200,000 on our team than on someone else’s team to help them develop further expertise,” Hill said.

Canadian city questions proposal to spend 200.000 on consultant

Jeff Jorgenson, the city’s general manager of transportation and utilities, has responded that the city indeed has the knowledge and skills in-house to perform the tasks; however, he adds that there are also not enough people available to do the work. The redesign report is set to be completed by the end of 2017.

As it stands the city spends around $15.95 million on capital projects and the other $2.68 million on operational consultants. Those numbers represent around 4.27% and 0.41% the total operating budget, respectively. The relatively high figures has resulted in concern from within the council, with Pat Lorje, in response to Hill’s questioning of the spending, stating: “I’ve been bringing this up for years, so it’s refreshing to hear other councillors expressing some concern.” A special report into, among others, the use of external advisors and consultants, will be released in 2017 – according to Jorgenson.

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Manchester Mayor criticised for £250,000 consulting spend

19 March 2019 Consultancy.uk

The Mayor of Greater Manchester has been criticised for splurging hundreds of thousands of pounds on consulting fees before determining that the region’s fire brigade must slash its budget by millions. Andy Burnham put more than £250,000 towards work from ten consulting firms as part of a review into the region’s emergency services.

Despite the continued argument that projects like the Northern Powerhouse initiative are helping to address the North-South divide in the UK, statistics still show that the North has borne the brunt of austerity in England. Northern English cities have been disproportionately affected, with their spending cut on average by a fifth since 2010, while cities in the south and east of England had average losses of 9%.

The impact of spending cuts has been keenly felt in Greater Manchester in particular, where local government spending has fallen by as much as £650 per person since 2009 in some parts of the region. As the area looks to find further savings, while the Central Government continues to fail to deliver on its pledge to end austerity, it has been announced that the fire brigade for Greater Manchester faces a reduction of up to £10 million from its budget.

The swingeing cuts to hit the emergency service would likely see its fleet of fire engines reduced from 56 to 47, while six fire stations face closure, and 113 support staff could suffer the axe. The news follows an investigation from Mayor Andy Burnham, which was triggered in part by the admission of Chief Fire Officer, Jim Wallace, that since 2015 the service has failed to deliver “its own efficiency plan”.

Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham spent £268,300 to review the city’s fire service

The review itself has been far from inexpensive, however, and it has led some to accuse Burnham of hypocrisy. During the review of the fire service, which has delivered demands for the service to find major efficiency savings, the Greater Manchester Mayor reportedly splurged £268,300 in public funds on consulting work for his root-and-branch review.

According to local newspaper Manchester Evening News, Burnham tasked ten different consultancies with helping to compile the review, receiving payments ranging from £101,000 to £7,000. The largest amount was handed to Leicester headquartered P. Cooper & Associates for the expertise of a “senior change and transformation programme specialist,” while it was reported that another of the consultants gave “guidance on leadership and culture”.

A Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS) spokesman said of the spending: “The Programme for Change programme has required input from specialists who are expert in areas such as organisational transformation, operating models for fire safety and estates.”

Manchester’s fire brigade was criticised in 2017 when, in the wake of the Manchester Arena bombing, a report by Lord Kerslake noted crews had been held back from helping. Contrary to helping deliver a more efficient service, Unison has told the press that it believes the proposed cuts will make the residents of Greater Manchester “less safe”. With the expenditure of the review on private sector consultants now public, meanwhile, the union has slammed the report for throwing away public funds while jeopardising vital public sector work.

Unison represents the 113 staff who may lose their jobs, and a spokesperson for the union told Manchester Evening News, "It's disappointing that when finances are clearly tight, priority has been given to hiring external consultants rather than engaging with the workforce. This will be a shock to our members who were only told on Monday their jobs were at risk."

In recent years, a succession of local authorities have come under fire from officials and the general public for their consulting spending in the UK. Earlier in 2019, a freedom of information request by The Times revealed that local councils across the UK have spent around £400 million on consulting firms in the last year alone. According to the report, this represents a rise of more than a fifth since 2014, with critics using the figures to call into question the value added by engaging external expertise.

Commenting on the criticism many councils face, Tamzen Isacsson Chief Executive, Management Consultancies Association, said, “Consultants play a vital role in the public sector, [providing] transformational impacts, innovation and increased efficiency… Vital front line services continue to operate uninterrupted [while] consultants often help local authorities get better results with less money. As the MCA awards this year demonstrate consultants are delivering social benefits across the UK – from work on getting better outcomes for children in care to finding better processes for finding homes for vulnerable families in London these examples offer a true reflection of the consulting excellence that operates across the UK to the benefit of councils and the wider society.”